Seedworm Operation Spreads Malware via Phishing Attacks

Phishing Spam Graphic2018 has been a busy year for new threats spread via email, with spear-phishing and Business-Email-Compromise (CEO fraud) the rising star for cyber-criminals intent on draining your bank account. Recent victims include Google and Facebook ($100 million lost), McEwan University (almost $12 million lost), a New York judge ($1 million), and a Dutch cinema chain (over $21.5 million). These threats will continue to grow as cyber-criminals try new tactics to separate you from your money. The latest trend involves using encrypted HTTPS connections to trick users into thinking they’re visiting a secure site.  This means users can no longer trust a site that displays the green padlock icon in the address bar. Always verify that you’re visiting a legitimate site before entering any personal information such as Social Security or credit card numbers, otherwise, your private data could be transmitted to a hacker.

As we continue to bring awareness to these threats, new ones emerge almost daily. In the past three months, a cyber-espionage group known as Seedworm (aka MuddyWater) has used spear-phishing attacks to infect 131 individuals with the Powermuddy backdoor (a new variant of their Powermud backdoor). Once a system has been compromised, this malware runs a tool that steals passwords from a user’s browser and email, often leading to access to the victim’s email and social media accounts.

Protect Yourself from the Latest Threats

Over the years, I’ve posted many times about phishing, spear-phishing, and other threats, with a variety of suggestions for protecting yourself and your business from becoming the next victim. Throughout these posts (from oldest to newest), you’ll find lots of tips to avoid being tricked by these email-borne scams.

As the threat landscape continues to evolve, businesses of all sizes must maintain awareness of the latest email-borne threats and educate staff at all levels, from entry level to C-suite. After all, without the right tools and procedures in place, it only takes one misguided mouse click to damage a business’ reputation or send it into bankruptcy.

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Four-Step Swindle: The Anatomy of a Business Email Compromise Attack

This week, we continue our series on Business Email Compromise. Click here to read Part 1, which includes an overview and various statistics on this growing threat.

It takes time and effort to launch a successful Business Email Compromise (BEC) attack. In a typical attack, several messages are exchanged in an attempt to convince the target to authorize large payments to the attacker’s bank account. From start to finish, the steps involved in a BEC attack consist of identifying a target, grooming, exchanging information, and finally, transfer of funds.

Let’s go over these four steps in detail.

Step 1 – Identify the Target Victim

Step 1 – Identify the Target Victim The first step in a BEC attack may be the most time-consuming. During this step, a criminal organization researches the victim to develop an accurate profile of the company. Through publicly available information, attackers look for the names and positions of company executives, especially those on the finance team. They scour social media, online articles, and anything else that will provide specific details about the company and its employees. Scammers who are able to infiltrate a company’s network with malware may spend weeks or months monitoring information on the company’s vendors, billing and payment systems, and employee vacation schedules. They have also been known to monitor the executive’s writing style in order to craft a convincing email using a spoofed email address or lookalike domain claiming to come from the CEO.

Step 2 – Grooming

Phishing - Business Email CompromiseArmed with the information obtained in Step 1, the scammer moves on to Step 2. During this step, the scammer uses spear-phishing, phone calls or other social engineering tactics to target employees with access to company finances. The grooming phase often takes several days of back and forth communication in order to build up trust. During this phase, the scammer may impersonate the CEO or another company executive and use his or her authority to pressure the employee to act quickly.

Here is an example sent to one of our Finance executives in which the sender used display name spoofing to spoof the name of our CEO. Cybercriminals will often use a free email address (notice the comcast.net domain), which can be easy to miss if you’re using a mobile device or some other client that doesn’t display the full email header.

Spear-phishing with Spoofed Display Name
Spear-phishing with Spoofed Display Name

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3 – Exchange of Information

phishing back accountDuring step 3, the victim is convinced that he is conducting a legitimate business transaction, and is then provided with wire transfer instructions.

Step 4 – Payment

And finally, funds are transferred and deposited into a bank account controlled by the criminal organization.Business Email Compromise bank transfer

What to Do if You Are a Victim

If you’ve suffered losses due to Business Email Compromise schemes, it is important to act quickly.

  • Contact your financial institution immediately.
  • Request your financial institution contact the institution that received the fraudulent funds.
  • Contact your local FBI office and report the incident.
  • File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

You can find more detailed instructions in the FBI’s Public Service Announcement.

Want to learn more about how to protect yourself from Business Email Compromise scams? In Part 3, we’ll go over a few best practices, so check back soon!

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